THOMPSON, Man. — A judge is expected to give a verdict today in the manslaughter trial of an RCMP officer in northern Manitoba who fired a dozen shots into a Jeep following a police chase.
Crown prosecutors told the trial in Thompson that Const. Abram Letkeman made only wrong choices in the lead up to the shooting death of Steven Campbell in 2015.
Court heard that 12 bullet casings were found at the scene and 39-year-old Campbell, who was drunk behind the wheel, was hit at least nine times.
The defence argued that all police officers make mistakes and Letkeman thought his life was in danger because the Jeep was moving toward him.
Campbell’s mother, Shirley Huber, says her family hopes the judge finds that the officer’s actions were dangerous and wrong.
She says, no matter the verdict, her son’s death shows how important it is for police to have dashboard and body cameras, especially in northern communities.
“There has to be a way to document what really happens on those stops and maybe it won’t happen again,” Huber said in a message online.
“Maybe my son would still be alive.”
Letkeman, 37, pleaded not guilty to six offences, including criminal negligence.
The trial heard the officer saw the Jeep being driven erratically shortly after the bars in Thompson had closed.
After a failed attempt at a traffic stop, the officer started to pursue the vehicle but did not communicate that to his supervisors.
Letkeman testified that he hoped to end the chase by using his police car to bump the back of the Jeep, forcing it to rotate and stop. A use of force expert testified the move was against protocol and training, and was extremely risky.
The Jeep ended up on a trail for all-terrain vehicles, where it lost control and stopped. The trial heard Letkeman’s vehicle then T-boned it.
The officer testified he didn’t wait for backup and walked in front of the Jeep to do a high-risk takedown. He said the Jeep started moving toward him, so he was forced to fire.
Campbell’s girlfriend, one of four passengers in the Jeep, was also shot and injured.
A toxicology report showed Campbell had alcohol in his system and was almost 2 1/2 times the legal limit to drive. It also showed a small amount of cocaine.
During closing arguments in June, the Crown argued that Letkeman stood in front of the vehicle and fired so that the Jeep couldn’t drive away, not because he was in danger.
Prosecutor Christian Vanderhooft said nothing that Letkeman did on the night of the fatal shooting was reasonable.
“Each opportunity where that should have been done, the wrong decision was made. Not just wrong — negligent.”
The defence argued the officer shot his gun because he had to. Lawyer Lisa LaBossiere told the trial that every officer has made a mistake. She warned that convicting Letkeman would have “a chilling effect” on all police.
Campbell’s mother said he shouldn’t have been driving if he was intoxicated, but the mistake wasn’t worth his life.
Huber attended the trial and called it the hardest thing she has ever had to do. But she says she won’t be there for the verdict.
She says her son was a caring father to his two kids and a kind and loving friend who would give anyone the shirt off his back.
“I still miss the man he had grown up to be. A mother never gets over losing a child she carried,” she said. “I miss him every day and know I always will.”
Kelly Geraldine Malone, The Canadian Press